Anterior Knee Pain


The knee is the largest joint in the body and consists of the femur (thigh bone), patella (knee cap) and tibia (shin bone).  The surface of each bone is covered in cartilage, a smooth and slippery material that helps bones glide and move without pain.  In addition, the knee is unique in that it has two pieces of ring-shaped cartilage that act as “shock absorbers” for the knee during activities, called the lateral and medial meniscus.  These menisci (plural of meniscus) are tough but rubbery and protect the knee from injury, but can also become injured themselves as a result of wear and tear or athletic injuries.  There are also four primary ligaments that stabilize the knee: anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL).  These ligaments are frequently injured during activities, with the ACL being most common.


Pain in the front of the knee (medical term: “anterior knee pain”) is often commonly referred to as runner’s knee.  The pain is often a result of stress between the patella (knee cap) and femur (thigh bone).  This often affects not only runners, but other athletes including skiers, cyclists, and soccer players or anyone who has high knee stress.  As a result, these stresses can result in anterior knee pain syndrome, patellofemoral malalignment, and chondromalacia.  Only a physician can properly diagnose your injury and determine the most appropriate treatment.


The first treatment for any sports-related pain includes rest, ice, elevation, and compression. Once pain is improving, it is important to pay careful attention to good athletic technique.  This includes staying in shape, stretching, strengthening, and gradually increasing training levels rather than sudden changes in a workout routine. Ensure that all gear is in good condition.  Some conditions, however, may require surgical debridement to remove damaged cartilage or even correction of abnormal patella alignment.  The particulars of any operation should be discussed with your surgeon.


If electing non-operative treatment, rehabilitation will focus on strengthening to reduce knee stress and improve appropriate patella motion and tracking.  If surgery has been performed, your physician may recommend a specific rehabilitation protocol to enhance your recovery to activities. This will consist of exercises for improving strength, maintaining motion, and re-training your muscles and balance. Exercises should be performed in a supervised setting, as well as at home on your own time.  Your commitment to rehabilitation is key to a successful outcome.


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